- New Hampshire margin for Sanders puts Clinton on defensive
- Both candidates positioning campaigns for next round
The day after suffering a stinging defeat at the hands of New Hampshire primary voters, Hillary Clinton retreated to New York to assess her campaign organization and her message and to prepare for a Thursday debate that now takes on greater importance as she heads into the next round of contests.
From the moment the polls closed in New Hampshire Tuesday night and it was clear that Bernie Sanders was running away with a 20-point winning margin in the Democratic presidential primary, Clinton’s aides rushed out with reassurance to donors and supporters and tried to bat away reports of a staff shakeup to right the campaign.
Some of her key backers on Wednesday also put out word that Clinton was still the long-term bet to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.
“Last night’s loss doesn’t change my confidence in the secretary becoming the Democratic nominee,” said Robert Wolf, chief executive officer of 32 Advisors, who backed Barack Obama over Clinton in 2008 and now supports the former secretary of state. “I never thought it would be a straight path to the general without any bumps on the road, as it never is.”
Sanders, who bested Clinton among women and young voters, turned his attention to cultivating another crucial component of the Democratic coalition that helped Obama twice win the White House. The Vermont senator also was in New York to meet with civil rights activist Al Sharpton. Sharpton tweeted pictures of his sit-down with Sanders at Sylvia’s Restaurant, a Harlem landmark.
The Feb. 27 Democratic primary in South Carolina will be the first nominating contest where blacks make up a significant bloc of the party’s voters. The week before that will be Democratic caucuses in Nevada, where union members and Hispanics will be important to the outcome.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are set to announce on Thursday a group endorsement of Clinton. Many of the more than 40 members of the caucus have already said they’re backing Clinton.
Sharpton plans to meet with Clinton next week and won’t be giving an endorsement before then, the Associated Press reported.
Messaging has been a challenge for Clinton -- even with tweaks, her stump speech comes off as a laundry list of policy positions, and the candidate has struggled in interviews to articulate why she’s running for president in just a few sentences.
Efforts in New Hampshire to rally female voters with high-profile figures such as Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright seemed to backfire, as women -- and especially younger women -- went with Sanders in New Hampshire. Even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, widely regarded as one of the best politicians of his generation, fell flat with an attempt to tie Sanders to Wall Street money and some of the sexist attacks on his wife.
David Axelrod, the architect of Obama’s 2008 campaign, said it’s natural for a candidate to have a “head-to-toe” re-evaluation of the organization after a setback. But that doesn’t necessarily have to mean an upheaval.
“Campaigns have ups and downs, I’ve been through them,” Axelrod, who isn’t aligned with any of the candidates, said in Springfield, Illinois. He and other veterans of the 2008 race had converged for a reunion as Obama spoke to the state legislature in the city where he announced his run for president nine years ago. “I think she’s still in a very sound position to win this nomination, so you don’t want to overreact."
Clinton’s next test, and her next chance to show off a refreshed approach, will be her debate with Sanders on Thursday night in Milwaukee. Although it’s crucial for Clinton to maintain confidence among long-time influential Democratic donors and party officials, that support also has made her less appealing to many of the younger or economically disaffected voters attracted by Sanders’ anti-Wall Street, anti-establishment message.
Clinton tried to recover some of those threads in her concession speech Tuesday night in New Hampshire, making an appeal to young people, women, minorities and the working poor. She said she agreed with Sanders about the corrosive influence of Wall Street and big money donors.
“I know I have had a blessed life, but I also know what it’s like to stumble and fall,” she said. “And so many people across America know that feeling.”
Any liability in being viewed as part of the establishment also reflects asset for Clinton in actually winning the Democratic nomination. In addition to the delegates collected through caucuses and primaries, Clinton is gathering up the backing of Democratic Party officials and lawmakers who are so-called super delegates to the national convention.
There’s also the impact on races in each state. Her campaign on Wednesday released a list of endorsements from state and local officials in South Carolina.
Campaign manager Robby Mook said Clinton was looking ahead to the 28 states that will be voting or caucusing in March to award more than half the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. The March states “better reflect the true diversity of the Democratic Party and the nation,” he said in a memo released by the campaign.
Wolf recalled a conversation he had with then-Senator Obama after his 2008 loss in New Hampshire to Clinton. Wolf said the same advice applies to Clinton. “We talked about his need to go right back out on the trail, continue to be inspirational and confident, make sure the voters clearly hear your message and know what you stand for,” he said.
“As we move forward in South Carolina and Las Vegas and beyond, it is going to become much less about the populist rhetoric and much more focused on key issues” such as the economy, immigration and foreign policy, and “with these real concerns, the secretary has the best vision for our country.”